Picture this: the vacation you’ve been planning for months has finally arrived. You’ve been working every night ’til late (very late) this week, but now it’s finally that time when you can let go of all worries, board the plane, and just relax.
As you sit there, zoning out, a stressed out looking mother fumbles her way down the aisle with a screaming baby. Will they come sit near you? Please no, please no…
Noooooo… Yep. They’re right next to you.
You manage a smile, but inside you’re thinking, “Great, there goes my relaxing plane ride.”
Well now, the tables have turned. You are now that stressed out parent and you know you’re every passenger’s worst nightmare. You used to be your worst nightmare.
As that frazzled parent, you look at the passengers already on board thinking, “Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
You pray, not just for your own sake, but for everyone’s sake, that your little one will cooperate. And by “cooperate” you mean sleep during the entirety of the journey.
But you doubt this will happen. You so desperately want to be that heroic parent, who everyone congratulates at the end of the trip, “Wow, what a well behaved baby you have!”
The reality of the situation is that your baby is not a machine. Your baby is only human, and humans have good days and bad days. Nothing is ever guaranteed.
But many, many parents have been there before. And our friends in Club Bébé Voyage, our community of traveling parents, have come back to us with their tips that have put the odds in their favor.
Armed with the tips we are about to share with you, babies have been calmer (have slept even), and have even made fellow passengers look at parents and say, “Now that is a good mother!” And that, my friends, is the best you can ask for.
1. Take a chill pill – you can do this
Most parents about to travel with their squeamish baby are nerve-racked. Particularly if it’s the first time and especially if they will be traveling solo with bébé.
I have traveled with my little one alone countless times, and no matter how seasoned of a Bébé Voyager I may be, I’m nervous about the trip. I get butterflies in my stomach as we get to the airport, as if I’m about to be tested for something really important.
And the longer the journey, the worse the anxiety.
I know. We know. Traveling came with its ups and downs before having a baby in tow, but now… Well, who knows what could happen.
But the key for you and for your baby is to stay calm. Even if you feel those butterflies in your stomach, keep cool on the outside. The calmer you are, the higher the chances your baby will be calm too.
“But how?” you ask.
We have a few tricks up our sleeves. But each will depend on your particular situation.
Don’t Be a Hero
If you have the opportunity to travel with someone (anyone!), do! Do not underestimate the value in traveling accompanied.
All of the tips we will share in the rest of this blog post can be shared between you and your travel companion, and that my friends, is huge. It means you don’t have to be on the whole time.
Give Me Some Relief Please!
If you are traveling to visit a friend or family, try to enlist someone you trust to take care of your little one when you arrive. The longer the journey, the longer you’ll need the support.
We know not everyone is lucky enough to travel with someone, so solo bébé voyagers: listen up! This trick is particularly necessary for you.
Juliet’s Story: I traveled from Chicago to the Cognac region in France with my 18 month old alone. We flew from Chicago to Paris, and once in Paris, we caught a four hour train ride from the airport down to a town called Angouleme. When we finally arrived, I’d been up for over 24 hours and was totally exhausted. I knew I’d be wrecked upon arrival, so I made sure my parents would be able to take care of my little one for at least the first 24 hours after our arrival.
One of our Club members Alexandra, who travels regularly with her baby twins from Maputo, Mozambique to Chicago (a 35-hour journey door to door!) told us she always enlists her in-laws to take care of the babies upon arrival. “Last time I did this trip, I had to sleep 13 hours straight to recover, couldn’t have done without it!!” she says.
Not only will you need that rest upon arrival, but you’ll need the knowledge that you will be able to rest while traveling. That, my friends, can do wonders to your mindset.
“It’s OK… Once I get there, my parents have the situation under control. Phew!”
The bottom line while traveling with a baby is to be as nice to yourself as possible.
So if your friend or cousin offers to babysit, be kind to yourself, and say yes.
But, maybe you aren’t visiting anyone you know. Maybe this is really a vacation you’ve planned with your little family and there’s no one on the other end to relieve you.
If this is the case, make sure you have a few days of relaxation (i.e., very little) planned right after.
Part of the relief in this case will be the knowledge that you are going to a beautiful place.
Just keep that relief in mind while you’re traveling, it will do wonders to your mindset.
2. Try choosing your traveling times wisely
The operative word being “try.” Ideally, you’ll want to book trains and planes when your baby tends to nap or at night, this way your little one should sleep during most of the trip.
Of course, these things are not guaranteed, but you’re putting the chances on your side.
You’ll have to constantly be playing a game of adapting and readapting. You can plan and sometimes it works, but not always.
Marianne’s story: We travel a lot from Southern Africa to Europe and the US. We always make sure that the longest part of the trip (the 12-16 hour leg) is overnight so that our baby can get some sleep. While he won’t necessarily be as well rested as he is in his crib, at least he gets a decent amount of rest and we don’t have to worry about entertaining him as much. And we can even catch some zzzz’s too.
Juliet’s story: My flight from Chicago to Paris was at strange time, but I had no choice but to book that flight (due to miles). It left at 3:15 PM, which meant my baby was going to miss his nap. We left our home a bit after 11 AM and he usually sleeps after lunch. I knew he’d be too stimulated at the airport to sleep. I was nervous about this, because a tired baby isn’t usually a good thing. However, this schedule ended up working in our favor. Since he’d skipped his nap, he was indeed tired, which meant he was “willing” to settle down for his night sleep on the plane earlier than usual. There was a lot of crying before he fell asleep, but once he was asleep, he slept until we landed, five hours. Then when we got to Paris, he woke up and eventually was very stimulated by the new environment. After getting our bags, we walked to the train station (which thankfully was in the airport terminal). On the train, my baby was wide awake. We played during the entire train ride (4 hours), but he fell asleep as we arrived. Luck would have it that when we finally arrived at our destination, it was a bit after 12PM, time for his nap! I hadn’t planned for this to work out so seamlessly. I hoped he’d sleep on the train, but in the end, it worked out for this best, as he was already adapting to his new time zone this way.
The bottom line, is just do the best you can!
3. Stretch those little legs out
If your baby is mobile, this will be key. Whether bébé is at crawling or walking stage, the more they move before the flight, train, car, what have you, the better off you are. The little wiggly worms tend to get frustrated when they can’t move, so try to shake it out of them as much as you possibly can before boarding.
4. Fellow passengers can be your friend, not your enemy – use them
Remember those angry passengers who mutter an exasperated “Great!” under their breaths when you sit next to them with bébé in tow?
Well, guess what. Not all passengers are like that.
Some, in fact a surprisingly high percentage of fellow passengers, will be sympathetic, empathetic even, to your situation. Many will have traveled with their own bébé at a time and others will be surprisingly understanding.
If you happen to be near such a passenger, don’t take this for granted! They may offer help and if you need it (and you’re alone), you should take it, as long as you feel comfortable. For instance, if they are willing to help you with your bags, say YES.
This goes back to an earlier point: You do not have to play hero.
Juliet’s story: When I was on that train from Paris to Angouleme and my baby was wide awake, there were a number of passengers in our car who were extremely baby-friendly. Part of the entertainment of the trip was taken up by my little one playing peek-a-boo with passengers across the car.
5. During the packing phase, make sure you bring lots of little distractions
Speaking of entertainment, you’ll need to have a lot of it under your sleeve.
There are some sources of entertainment that will be available to you on a plane, aside from fellow passengers.
Spontaneous Toy # 1: A plastic cup.
One of our Club members Alex rightly says, “9 months old was the beginning of our ‘everything is a toy phase’ – the plastic cup your drink comes in can give you a few hours of fun.”
Spontaneous Toy # 2: The laminated security pamphlet
These security pamphlets are like a story book for babies. The drawings of the planes can keep those bubs busy for minutes on end!
Spontaneous Toy # 3: The tray
Babies love to figure stuff out. And there is nothing more fascinating to figure out that how that tray goes up and down.
Spontaneous Toy # 4: Other buttons
Buttons are a baby’s best friend. Any buttons on the seat can serve as entertainment.
Toys You Will Want to Take With You
We know you will be running around like a headless chicken before your trip, but it will be well worth your time to bring a few goodies. You’ll thank yourself later.
Check Club Bébé Voyage’s crowd sourced ultimate list of travel toys and onboard entertainment for your baby.
Windows in the train tend to be more interesting:
6. Bring comfort food
A plane or a train is not the place to test any new foods on your baby. Take what you know he or she will eat or drink. This will be helpful if your little one starts getting cranky.
We’ve had several members advise against sugary foods, as these might excite bébé.
Another Club member Caty suggests bringing food that takes a while to eat. For instance, Marianne uses apple slices and carrot sticks which take a while for her little one to gnaw through.
You might have guessed by now that whatever activity takes a while to do is gold.
7. Don’t forget the wind-down essentials
If your baby takes to a pacifier or a “blanky” make sure you have it near you at all times, even if you are not flying during normal sleeping hours.
As Club member Vicky says, “If your baby has a lovey object bring that as well! We couldn’t do without [our baby’s] pillow.”
Needless to say that during night flights or nap time, this is that much more crucial. We’d also recommend you dress your baby in super comfy clothes (or pyjamas) and bring the sleep sack, so bébé is as much in his or her sleeping element as possible.
One of our Club members Nicola has even told us that she “bathes” her babies in the airport bathroom sink before boarding a night flight to stick to the bedtime routine as much as possible.
In other words, anything you can do to emulate the normal routine will help keep your little one calm.
8. Time the activities throughout the journey
This one is huge. Try and try hard not to go through all your toys within the first 15 minutes of your trip. If you do, you’ll have nothing left to entertain your bub and this above all else will steer your babe into a tantrum of boredom.
You will be in a position of strength if you have more tricks up your sleeve.
Keep a Surprise Toy for the Dire Moment
We strongly recommend you buy a toy (we love the flapbook) that you reserve only for travel and that you keep for that threshold moment — you know that moment when you’ve run out of all the things you can possibly do to assuage bebe. This will be your “saving grace” toy.
Make sure to reserve this toy for the end.
“I’m going to bust out the big guns,” I’ve heard a mommy friend of mine say, and that’s exactly what this toy should feel like.
There will be situations where you will board your flight and your baby will already be insanely cranky. Maybe you bust out your “surprise toy” in the beginning and leave the post-its for later. The post-its will in turn become the “surprise toy”. Adapt and readapt.
The key is be sure to “spread the snacks/books/toys during the whole flight, and not to offer them all at once” as Clara, one of our Club members wisely advises.
Vicky’s story: I packed a lot of little stuff to keep him occupied and wrapped them separately as “presents”. Give the pressies whenever you think it’s time again (we had 14 hours to cover). I had star-shaped post-its that we used to decorate the window and seat in front of us before take off. What I found cool (and worked) were craft sticks with added double tape at each ends. Velcro would have been better but I couldn’t find any when looking. We”built” many things with these, they’re light to pack so bring several so you won’t need to bend down to fetch them every time they fall under your seat. I also had a sticker book with me and a lot of cute stickers (wrapped as presents). Also bring some light (new to him) picture books or an old one the baby loves.
9. Be Prepared to Bend the Rules
As mentioned earlier on in this post, chances are things will not go exactly according to plan. For some peace and quiet, we urge that whatever rules you normally have for your bébé be bent or even broken. Travel is not everyday, it’s an exception.
For instance, if you are completely against exposing your baby to screens, maybe having a bit of screen time on the plane (strategically planned as the final surprise toy you break out), could save you hours of tears and sweat.
Juliet’s story: I try to avoid screens. But there is one video I know always calms my little one down. After I’ve exhausted all other options, I will show it to him, as my final trick.
This also applies to naps and food. If you have a strict schedule for your baby, be prepared to bend the rules here. Yes, try to keep some similitude to your baby’s schedule, but be open to the fact that the nap will not last long, that your baby might eat at different times, that your baby might have more snacks than usual, etc.
Just be open to different situations popping up and adapt accordingly.
So. Remember that panic-stricken parent you thought you were fumbling down the aisle?
Well that does not have to be you.
Sure. There are always a lot of variables in the travel-with-baby equation.
But now, not only are you armed with goodies to entertain your bébé, but also, most importantly, you’ve changed your mindset. You will survive this. No matter how long the flight, train or car journey, there is an end in sight.
So don’t let your fear stand in the way of your grandmother meeting her first great-grandchild. In the grand scheme of things, this journey will be nothing next to the joy of witnessing this perhaps once in a lifetime encounter.
And maybe, just maybe, your neighbor on your next trip will compliment your parenting skills, and — despite our telling you not to feel like a hero — you will end up feeling just that, like a superhero. Because after all, traveling with a baby is a feat, and once you conquer it, you’ll feel like a pro at parenting.